The Wild West ... the outback ... The new world of the 1800s was a time of true liberty. People stood on their own merits. They won or they lost and they reaped the rewards or swallowed the consequences. There were no cubicle dwelling civil servants hell bent on saving you from yourself. No planning permits no licenses no permissions no heritage overlay no bylaw no regulators no inspectors. And guess what ... it worked

This site is set up to provide a forum for a number of like minded professional economists to post and comment on contemporary issues. There are a number of regular contributors whose bios are made available on the site. Most if not all of these contributors use a pseudonym for the simple reason that they are practicing economists who must take into consideration the commercial implications of posting their opinions.

While some may feel that this is a bit of a gutless approach it is the only way we can ensure free and open discussion without jeopardising our paycheques.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When swine flies (Lone Ranger)

The good news is that we can put away our face masks and venture back onto the street without having to run away from passers-by who are blowing their noses. The Department of Human Services has now conceded that maybe swine flu is just another form of flu. I quote from today’s Herald Sun:

“Dr Lester (described as “Victoria's health chief”) stressed that so far the swine flu had not shown itself to be any worse than the normal seasonal flu and of the 212 state cases detected, just three were hospitalised and were in a stable condition.”

My wife, who is a GP, was required to don goggles, face mask and gloves to examine a suspected case of swine flu last week. From what she could make out during the course of the examination (she could hardly see or breath with the goggles and mask), the symptoms were identical to those of a common cold. We suspect, in fact, that the effects are roughly equivalent to those of a common cold too.

Funny how this whole scare has been led by health bureaucrats with not much else to do than prepare for health “emergencies” that never seem to materialise. The role of the WHO is, to say the least suspect. The last triumph this organisation had was the elimination of smallpox. Funny how a bunch of international health bureaucrats lead the charge on calling swine flu a “crisis” and “pandemic” – they have to justify their fat tax free salaries and living allowances after all.

Anyway, another bubonic plague type crisis averted, through the timely intervention of DHS and its guidelines on washing hands (use soap and water and lather for 15 seconds……).

Foreign affairs submission 2261 (Lone Ranger)

This is an excerpt from the book that never was "Carpet Baggers, Nutjobs and Happy Clappers".

10% tax on both sides of all international transactions and printing of an internationally transferable currency, to bring in $2 trillion per year to fund international military [NATO] aid [United Nations], Including a small amount of welfare provided to any person in the world becoming sterile by injection [Gonex].

A 10 per cent tax on both sides of an international transaction is what we call (a) tariffs for the importing country and (b) export taxes for the exporting country. The effect of these taxes would be to decrease international trade and make imported goods more expensive, thereby making all people in all countries worse off.

This would be problematic, as we would need every cent we could get to pay for the “$2 trillion per year to fund international military [NATO] aid [United Nations]”. $2 trillion would buy a lot of international armed forces. But what would they do? Who would the enemy be? Some of us are still quite attached to the idea that the military is answerable to, and takes orders from, elected Governments, at least in democratic nations. Last time we checked, NATO was not a democratic nation state. Who would control it? We suspect that the Chinese may be less than enthusiastic about NATO control over a world army partly funded by their own taxes.

In any case, “international armies” have not exactly got a great track record. Heard of the UN army raping the unfortunate women of Darfur? Is that what our $2 trillion would pay for? What about the UN “peace keeping mission” (we use the term loosely) in Bosnia? The Bosnians would have been better off arming themselves with pitch forks than relying on the UN.

And where did the sterilisation comment come from? Who funds the “small welfare payment”? If I have 10 kids and then get sterilised, do I get a payment? Half the nations on earth now have below replacement fertility – we should be offering to pay anyone who will churn out a kid or two, not sterilise them. Still, if sterilisation is going to attract a payment, it is a shame that the mother of this submission’s author did not think of this option prior to having children.

Back of the envelope:
  • Cost: $2 trillion (at a minimum). Pricey, given that this is around 2.5 times the size of Australia’s GDP
  • Expected impact on average earnings: Negative
  • Expected impact on economic growth: Complete disaster
  • Impact on incentives: Negative
  • Impact on government spending: We would need to print money 24/7
  • Impact on taxation: See all of the above
  • Winners: A handful of meglomaniacs at NATO
  • Losers: Every man, women and child living in Australia

Introduction to "Australia's future in the world" - submissions from Australia 2020 (Lone Ranger)

I wrote this last year, but much of its is still current. I suspect now with the election of president-prophet-godhead Obama, the anti-americanism would be somewhat toned down if 2020 was held today. I will post some reviews of individual submisison shortly.

Australia's future in the world

While there are exceptions, many of the submissions about Australia’s future in the world were variations of a series of common themes:

More power to multilateral institutions - there is a touchingly naïve but also worrying assumption in most submissions that world peace will be realised and global poverty ended simply by giving more power to the United Nations and other multilateral organisations. It is as if the prosperity and freedom we have known is somehow unrelated to the nation State, or to the culture and values of the West. The fact that nearly everything the UN has ever tried has ended in failure is irrelevant – we just have not given enough of our money and sovereignty over to this unelected world body. Even worse is the assumption that the UN is somehow a superior way of promoting human rights. In 2009, the UN Human Rights Council will include paragons of freedom such as China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which represent some of the most brutal, arbitrary and undemocratic regimes on earth – do we really want to entrust future freedoms to nations such as these?

But perhaps that is the point – the people that promote human rights are quite happy to trample over your rights and mine if it gets in the way of achieving what they want.

Another key theme is that Australia should give lots more overseas aid. Where this money is to come from is never specified, nor how it would be used, other than motherhood statements around “eliminating poverty” or “education” or “feeding the poor”. Never mind that welfare dependency – whether at an individual or national level – is equally crippling to the capacity to look after oneself. Never mind that Australian taxpayers would impoverish themselves sending money to all and sundry overseas. Never mind that hundreds of billions of dollars of global assistance have been poured into the third world for decades with no effect on production, productivity and freedom.

One of the most bizarre themes is the need for Australians to learn foreign languages, thus promoting world peace. This reasoning is hopelessly misguided – countries will seek to promote their national interests, regardless of how fluent their citizens are in the languages of others. After all, even if, by learning a foreign language you “understand” foreigners better, it does not automatically follow that you will therefore agree with their perspectives. Even if I was to learn Farsi, wI dount that I would support the nuking of Israel, for instance.

Of course, given the leanings of most submission authors, there was a strong current of anti-americanism. Actually, anti-americanism doesn’t quite describe the level of contempt in some submissions. Neither Americans nor the US Government are perfect – far from it – but the current American led global order has been far more benign than many others. Even if you disagree with this statement, the idea that somehow China would provide more warm, fuzzy international leadership than the US is delusional.

To sum up, the level of naivety about international relations and the true drivers of national interest are both amusing and scary. The desire for more international Government, more foreign aid, more bureaucracy was typical.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I need to wipe my bottom (Roy Rodgers)

Excuse me; I think I need to wipe my bottom.

The general public and other interested parties are encouraged to comment on the intended wiping, either by written submission or by attending one of the many public hearings to be held prior to the wipe. If you wish to express an opinion on how I should wipe it, please respond to my issues paper via a written submission. The issues paper includes a full cost benefit analysis of the wiping and outlines a number of alternative methods that may be adopted in the wipe itself.

The above scenario is patently absurd. However, if we are all honest little bureaucrats we have to admit to ourselves that somewhere in our not to distant past similar irreverent thoughts or possibly ones much more profane than a simple bottom wipe crossed our mind when that word ‘consultation’ was uttered.

Consultation, consultation and more consultation. This one word has the power to render bureaucrats speechless from either pure cubicle humping delight or alternatively from absolute dread (depending on their level of residual humanity).

I have to admit that after 10 years of participating in public consultation at both the commonwealth and state levels of government I fall well and truly in to the group associated with dread.

Why dread? In theory consultation is intended to provide both accountability and transparency in government, both of which are very noble and desirable things. In reality, at least in my version, it is very questionable whether it is effective at providing either of these things.

Why doesn’t it work? Let’s start at the beginning. There are basically two types of public consultation, that which is disingenuous or alternatively that which is well intentioned. Neither category provides outcomes consistent with the stated dream of enhanced accountability and transparency.

Disingenuous consultation doesn’t work because it is basically a lie. It is the subversion of public consultation by the consulter in order to serve their polemic needs. Disingenuous consultation provides a vehicle for bureaucrats to engage in one of the following:

- Finding someone else to blame for their own stupid ideas. When policy goes wrong, and the community starts complaining, who better to blame for the causal idea but the community itself … Hey buddy calm down it was your suggestion in the first place

- Projecting false impartiality. This is a somewhat more subtle concept. The basics are that the bureaucrat has already determined exactly what it is he or she wants to do however it’s much more marketable if it appears that the ideas came from the community. … During consultation both X and Y raised the possible option of responding to this particular concern by instituting a policy of such and such. Given that these proposals are consistent with good governance frameworks and broader policy objectives and have the backing of the community the Department has endorsed such and such. Any Department that regularly engages in consultation will have established extensive databases that collate and organise public submissions and are designed to facilitate this exact behavior.

- Undermining future opposition to policy …Hey buddy what’s your problem? You didn’t raise any objections during our consultation program. It’s a bit late to start complaining now! No excuses, our program was widely targeted and extensively advertised in the Government Gazette.

On the other side of the coin, bureaucrats may be well intentioned and may genuinely be seeking feedback on issues. But the reality is that however well intentioned the consultation program is it inevitably turns to mush and will 99% of the time provide outcomes that range from the simply inefficient to the grossly undesirable. The reason being that the process gets distorted by the ‘who cares factor’.

The ‘who cares factor’ implies that normal people, despite their rhetoric, very rarely if ever actually attend a public consultation event or go that step further and actually be motivated enough to submit a written response. Normal people are usually quite busy and after a hard days work the very last thing most normal people want to do is to attend a 2 hour session on a government proposal for something as mundane as wiping a bottom or alternatively something as scintillating as extending clearway times. After all, we all know the city is growing, that there are more cars on the road and that the majority of shops don’t open till 10am … so it’s a no brainer, of course we are going to get those clearways, they don’t need us to put in an appearance at the local RSL hall……WRONG.

The problem is that our well intentioned bureaucrat is going to turn up to his workshop to hear what the community wants, he will stand in front of the half empty town hall or RSL function room and present his proposal to a group of people who will inevitably fall into one or all of the following categories:

- The nutjob. This somewhat disruptive but often amusing participant will provide feedback along the following lines … Mr Bureaucrat your presentation gives me much concern. I don’t think you fully appreciate the effect such a policy will have on afghan asylum seekers (bureaucrat thinks to himself, don’t really get the connection between wiping my arse and Afghanistan, but I am a bit nervous someone might call me racist) and I’m deeply concerned that not once did you mention the full anal probing the aliens gave me last night (bureaucrat thinks to himself, ahhhhh …nutjob).

- The happy clapper. This participant is of the ‘I know best’ mold or the ‘I need to save you from yourself’ school of thought. They usually have their own agenda. The most common are those that seek to reduce the amount of sin the rest of us are wallowing in, those seeking to save the environment by sanctifying each and every botanical lifeform they can (with the exception of humans), and those seeking to preserve our heritage (cause if its old it must be better). This individual will invariable insist that the bureaucrat do something ridiculously pointless … like recycle their own toilet paper.

- The vested interest. This participant generally has a strong commercial stake in the policy proposal. Nothing is more motivating than money. They are inevitably well organized effective communicators and very difficult to dismiss. Whether this group is a problem or not will depend on the nature of the policy being proposed. The general rule is that they are most distortive where the costs associated with the policy are tightly concentrated but the benefits are widely distributed and the amount of benefit accruing to each individual is relatively small. For example, it is highly unlikely that working mums and dads will attend the clearway workshop, even though they are the ones who have to sit through the morning and afternoon traffic jams. However, you can bet your next paycheque that the shop owners enroute (particularly those that open before 10) will be there.

And at the end of his session the bureaucrat will go back to his cubicle and ponder for a little while just how bizarre the public is and how alone he feels (this will take roughly 10 minutes) after which he will inevitably play spider solitaire for a good 2 hours, at which point he will then make himself a cup of coffee and sit down and start rewriting the governments policy proposal so that it accurately reflects the wishes and desires of the nice bunch of freaks he met down at the town hall. After all who is he to question the group wisdom of the ‘community’?

And I should know, because for a long time I was that bureaucrat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2020 Health Submission 155 (Doc Holliday)

An excerpt from the book that never was, “Carpet Baggers, Nutjobs and Happy Clappers.”

Adopt a National Recreation Strategy after discussions with states/territories; Commit to a 'Recreation Summit;' … Fund access and endorse recreation faculties for all ages, levels and abilities; Provide infrastructure which allows recreation on naturally occurring facilities; … Endorse a National Education Plan for getting people out to recreate; … Endorse monetary carbon exchanges advantages at a personal level for people who walk or cycle to work etc.’

Recreation is seen as a useful way of offsetting obesity and to improve health. The answer, for one pundit, is to educate kiddies on the virtues of recreation, invest large amounts of money to make facilities available (presumably free of charge), and if the personal benefits of improved health and fun alone are not enough, offer a carbon refund for every time you recreate.

Who funds the construction and operation of the recreation infrastructure and at what cost? Who manages and operates the recreation infrastructure? Who will be paid to stand outside handing out carbon credits to passers by? Will carbon credits be enough to promote recreation?

It is not clear that there will be a surge in recreaters. Australia is already well-endowed with a good climate and plenty of open space, so access to facilities is not the problem. Rather, the issue is whether people sufficiently value recreation over other activities. So even if you have a swag of outdoor walking trails, the odds are that most mugs would choose to stay indoors surfing the net and playing Nintendo Wii.

And, carbon credits are not likely to be worth much more than a cup of coffee. If you were offering a coffee to every commuter, how many will bring along their spare running shoes to con the government to pay for their morning coffee at work?

If we build enough stadiums to seat one half of Australia’s population, you’re looking at a total cost of $360 billion, or about one-half of Australia’s GDP.

The back of the envelope

  • Cost: $360 billion
  • Expected impact on average earnings: Major reduction in income
  • Expected impact on economic growth: Big increase in GDP , big increase in government debt
  • Impact on incentives: 1 carbon credit = 1 cup of coffee
  • Impact on government spending: Up by two thirds
  • Impact on taxation: Up by two thirds
  • Winners: Stadium operators, public servants and coffee shop owners
  • Losers : Everyone else

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2020 Summary of Health Stream (Doc Holliday)

2020 The health stream summary

An excerpt from the book that never was, “Carpet Baggers, Nutjobs and Happy Clappers.”

Australians are living longer than ever before. In 2004-05, the average life expectancy (at birth) of Australian men and women were 79 and 83 years. This makes Australian among the longest lived people in the world. The cost of health care is, for the moment, quite modest by international standards.

Yet there is quite a clear agreement that Australia’s health care system is stuffed, that somehow it is failing to deliver the sort of results that we would like. We have too many fat kids, kids that don’t exercise enough, kids that eat too much, kids with bad teeth, kids that smoke too much, kids that drink too much, kids that pop too many pills. It was so much better in our days – when all we could eat were lard sandwiches, smoke cigarettes behind the shed, and play football barefoot on the street, while our mothers were in the kitchen quietly dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But no, our kids are too soft and we know what’s best for them.

But don’t just pick on the littlies. Why not the oldies? They’re too demented to know what’s good for them. Why, if only they exercised more and ate properly, they wouldn’t fall over and hurt themselves or clog up our hospitals with renal dialysis.

Then you’ve got the old (ho-hum) rugby scrum between the stern-looking guys in white coats and the witch-doctors promoting alternative therapies: ‘You can’t trust them holistic types, there’s no science in them’. And finally, there’s always that big bogey-man everyone loves to hate: big fat rich corporations (health insurance, pharmaceutical and, wait for it, oil companies) and professional associations (greedy doctors and dentists) all seeking for ways to rip you off.

There is one personality type that permeates the baying crowd: the one who knows the Truth. In his view all Australians should hike before breakfast, ride a bike to work, eat sushi for lunch, and have a cup of green tea after work. This one wants to ‘educate’ you, regulate you, provide you with all the infrastructure and incentives you would need, and then tax you to finance it all.

There is no doubt that Australia’s health-care industry can be improved. The problems almost always arise from the strange horse-trading that masquerades as government policy. There is, for a start, a rather odd relationship between Medicare and private health insurance (PHI): why should anyone take out PHI if Medicare is available for free? But Medicare is a major of problems because taxpayers are shielded from the effects that their lifestyle behaviours have upon the cost of the system. Fixing health insurance should be our first priority.

Analysis of individual submissions to follow

Sunday, May 24, 2009

2020 Carpet Baggers, Nutjobs and happy clappers (Roy Rodgers)

Roughly 12 months ago some compatriots and I had a bright idea. We thought it was about time that someone blew the lid on the public consultation racket. Time that someone provided an insider’s view on how public consultation is used and abused in the heady world of policy development. And we thought the best way to do this would be to produce a witty, sharp and incredibly popular book that dealt with the subject.

I can tell that you just yawned and thought to yourself ‘what a wanka’, however, you don’t have to be an insider (or a wanka) to note the modern day prevalence of consultation in policy development. It appears that every decision made by Government is accompanied by community consultation, from the most mundane such as extending Melbourne’s clearways to the really important such as the decision to build a multi billion dollar infrastructure project. It would appear that Government is incapable of making a decision without consulting the community.

At around about the same time something rather fortuitous happened. Cue Kevin. Along came Mr Rudd with his seemingly spiritual endorsement of bureaucracy as an ethical code. And what was one of the first things he had to do? What must any good bureaucrat do? One must consult and when you have a job as big as Kev’s and you need to consult, you need to do it big time! Let’s get everyone together (and by ‘everyone’ we mean only the best and brightest), hold a forum and invite submissions on all the pressing issues facing the nation and its future (and by ‘all’ we mean basically everything). And just to spice things up and give it a bit of a visionary edge we will call it 2020. What a corker of an idea!

While 2020 sparked an enthusiastic response from our best and brightest (as an aside I have to mention that if you actually attended the talk fest believing you were one of the best and brightest individuals Australia has to offer you are a wanka 100% guaranteed) it undoubtedly elicited sighs of resignation and absolute dread from the poor bureaucrats charged with turning Kev’s dreams into reality. For myself and my merry band of mates we have to admit we found the prospect of 2020 very exciting, because we recognised it as being a golden opportunity. 2020 must be the largest call for submissions ever in the history of this country. Not only that, the topics were so broad and so ill defined that it was carteblanch to every nutjob or happy clapper with access to a word processor (I said ‘word processor’ on purpose). 2020 would have to represent the biggest collection of rambling, misguided, bigoted, ill thought out, self serving bullshit ever compiled in our nation’s history. It presented us with the perfect opportunity to highlight to the wider public who, despite the rhetoric, are never engaged in the consultation process, just what the nutjobs are saying………pure gold!

…and then to business…

So we had a lot we wanted to say about consultation and 2020 was the perfect vehicle on which to launch the debate. Vigorous emailing ensued and a crew of well trained and well positioned economists were recruited, the aim being that each would provide (anonymously of course) short sharp and witty analysis of a number of submission for each of 2020s main themes (which ranged from the environment and indigenous issues all the way through to the tightly scoped topic “Australia’s future in the world”). The intention was that each economist chose what they thought was a fairly representative bundle of submission to their theme and then conduct some high level analysis taking into consideration:

- Expected impact on average earnings and on economic growth
- The impact on incentives
- Impact on government spending and taxation, and
- Identify the winners and losers

We had envisaged giving each submission an overall rating that went from extreme nutjob all the way through wet panted happy clapper to vested interest. We even had a title

Australia 2020
Carpet Baggers, Nutjobs and Happy Clappers

anecdotes and lunacy from the world of public consultation

Needless to say the book never eventuated. There are probably a number of reasons for this but the principal one is just plain laziness … life got in the way.

While our inability to galvanise or maintain momentum and actually produce something is blatantly pathetic there is a silver lining. A couple of the authors did actually manage to draft work, which has been sitting on my C:drive ever since. Rather than let these gems go to waste I intend on posting them on this site as a series. Starting early next week I’ll begin by posting some of the excellent work that Doc Holliday, the Lone Ranger and myself drafted.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why we are against Big Government (posted by Lone Ranger)

As you may have guessed, none of the contributors to this site are fans of “Big Government”. The concept of “big Government” is difficult to define – but suffice to say, my own preference is for Government to have an absolutely minimal impact on our lives. Personally, I consider that Government functions should primarily focus on the protection of property rights – justice, police and defence. On the other hand, I strenuously object to Government actions which:

1. Are based on making outcomes “fairer” – this requires huge levels of tax, enormous amounts of regulation and thousands of public servants to “ensure” that outcomes are “fairer”. How taxing the productive to give to the unproductive (plus a large commission for the public servants on the way) is fair, I am not sure

2. Are aimed at protecting us from ourselves. I don’t smoke and nor do I like the smell of cigarette smoke, but if someone wants to smoke until they get terminal lung cancer, why should I stop them? (provided I do not then have to fork out for their hospital bills). Also note that recent studies place the revenue earned from tobacco to exceed health related tobacco costs by a factor of 6

3. Are aimed at eliminating all risk from our lives. This is unrealistic and leads to the infantilisation of the population generally. What is wrong with people paying for the consequences of their actions?

4. Reduce our liberty. Every time a Government taxes, legislates and regulates, our liberties are diminished. I want the freedom to succeed or fail by my own merits

5. Use compulsion to achieve its ends. The concept of a free market, a much abused term (not least by Kevin Rudd who we suspect doesn’t even know what a market is) depends on free exchange between free men and women. Why should the state have a role in any form of exchange, be it prices, wages or anything else? For instance, if I am happy to work for $9.98 per hour, but the minimum wage prevents me and my would-be employer from employing me for anything under $10.00 per hour, how is that just?

The trouble is, nearly every action that Governments take will seek to make a situation “fairer”, protect us from ourselves, reduce risk, reduce liberty and /or use compulsion.

In addition to the above, a productive society depends on the creation of wealth, not the consumption of it. Entrepreneurs and capitalists create wealth – Governments consume it. A really useful test on whether or not an activity is wealth creating is as follows. Ask yourself two questions:
. Is the product of my endeavours exportable?
· Is there a secondary market for this product?

If the answer is “no” to each of these questions, the chances are that you are not creating wealth, but, rather, living off the productivity of others. Many activities would answer “yes” to both (e.g. mining), and others to just one (e.g. tourism). For nearly all Government jobs, however, you would answer “no” to both these questions.

The secret of wealth creation and rising living standards is actually not much of a secret. It is, in fact, a no-brainer. Wealth creation depends on:
· The investment of capital in productive, wealth producing enterprises (the source of output and jobs)
· Investment, in turn, occurs as a direct result of the accumulation of capital
· Capital – or “savings” as the more old fashioned amongst us would know it – is accumulated in the way it has always been accumulated, through hard work and thrift (i.e. my out-goings are less than my in-comings).

This simple equation reveals why the Commonwealth Government’s stimulus packages are such a crock. More about them another time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wheres our Milton (Roy Rodgers)

Will the next Milton Friedman please stand up

Let me set the scene, its late, you’ve just put through the final amendments to your latest project and your all done for the night. There is no rush to get home. You know the kids are tucked up sound asleep. Your better half is happily ensconced with her/his illegal copies of the latest season of brothers and sisters/ prison break. No joy there. So what’s the harm in burning up a bit of the company’s broadband and wasting some time on the net.

Here is an interesting exercise, google the following term “famous Australian economists’. Ten to one you’ll get around 200 hits referring to some guy called “nugget” Coombes, whom from what I can gather was a celebrated civil servant who spent large swaths of his life promoting welfare dependencies in aboriginal communities, but does not appeared to have made any contribution to economic thought. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find a nugget law, a nugget theorem or even a nugget axiom. But this should not surprise, when you stop to think about it our best known economists are invariably either public servants or bank johnnies and they are generally not known for their academic achievement, nor their impartiality.

Most people would never have heard of our one and only Nobel Laureate, game theorist John Harsanyi. Although to be fair he is also claimed to be Hungarian or American depending on your bias. However disputed his nationality is, it is undeniable that Mr Harsanyi got his first A grade representation here at the University of Queensland, so by State of Origin Rules he is definitely Australian.

Its not that Australia doesn’t produce good economists, we do. Its not that we don’t have any good economic schools, we do. Its that our economists for whatever reason, very rarely venture off campus. They are by and large content to stay in their sandstone castles (or in some cases brutalist dungeons) pontificating on this or that and pumping out mountains of journal articles to the critical acclaim of their peers but very rarely ever read by anyone other than the author or the journal editor. Fame may be a fickle beast but one thing is for certain, you can’t be famous if no one knows who you are and that means you can’t be famous without entering the public arena.

Lets for a moment consider the most famous economist of our time — Milton Friedman. Why is Friedman famous? Sure he was a great economist, he did unquestionably contribute to the field. He championed a whole raft of microeconomic reforms and moreover is viewed as the founder of the monetary school of macroeconomics. He is the reason we have a reserve bank. But that’s not why he’s famous. His fame is a result of a conscious decision in the latter part of his career to become a public intellect. He spoke relentlessly on TV and radio and he wrote newspaper columns. He even went to the extreme of producing and hosting his own tv show. Milton got in the public's face and as a result we remember him.

Well so what you may ask? Who cares? The problem is that the inability of our poor but brilliant economists to get their 15 minutes is symptomatic of a base state of ignorance in the general public about economics — about what economics is, where it came from, what its limitations are, and most importantly, the guidance it can provide. In a democracy like ours you get what you ask for and if you don’t know how to ask for an economically savvy government your probably not going to get one.

Again you may ask … so what! Ordinarily I’d tend to agree, however these are not ordinary times. The problem is that when we experience a phenomena, such as the current global crisis that society judges to be economic in nature, and the general public are clueless, and there are no public intellectuals who can stand on their soapboxes, you will inevitably find yourself in the position where debate does not exist, or exists at a level that is so ill-informed that it is absurd. The consequence is that people take for granted policy and actions that they should by rights resist.

One of the most amazing aspects of our current economic crisis (a crisis so great that its being billed as the Big One, the one that will topple the modern capitalist system) is that no one is really asking our economists what they think. During the height of the gangland wars Chopper got a regular column and even did regular TV spots. Sure every now and again Henry Ergas writes an opinion or John Freebain does a piece for the age or the fin review. But the question is why in amongst all this drama don’t Henry or John have a spot on the morning show. Why isn’t Koshy firing off questions to an actual real life economist? Why are we depending on editors from women’s magazines, talk show hosts and journalists for the bulk of our popular economic comment? Where is our Milton?

People need public access to our economic talent, the consequences of not having it are blindly obvious. People are swallowing whole heartedly policy which should be debated. Despite the ranting of our TV finance experts it is far from clear that fiscal packages of the sort being doled out by Obahma and our own Kevin are effective. There is no consensus amongst economists that Keynesian fiscal programs will pull us out of recession and if you don’t believe me check out the full page add that approximately four hundred economists including at least half a dozen noble laureates took out in the wall street journal. Alternatively you can just ask any of the 120 millionish Japanese what they think of fiscal stimulus.

I feel fairly confident in stating that all economists should feel a collective shiver go up their spine when our Kevin starts talking about FDR and the new deal, or when our Kevin starts selectively handing out bail out packages to industries on no other basis than what appears to be their degree of unionisation. And we should all be extremely worried when our Kevin decides he is going to start picking winners in the technology stakes and backing what he believes are going to be our innovative sectors.

Where were our economists when the debacles of fuel watch and grocery watch were being played out in the public eye?

Anyone with any decent degree of formal economic training should quite literally soil themselves when our Kevin starts declaring that he wishes to turn Australia back into the social democracy it used to be prior to Hawke, Keating and Howard …if that isn’t an invitation to emigrate to Fiji, I don’t know what is.

George Stigler (another famous economist) is reputed to have spent the last days of his academic career trying to answer the question of why we continue to make the same mistakes and pursue the same bad policy in the face of an ever mounting body of economic knowledge. To me the answer is quite simple, its not that people are stupid, nor is it that economics is counter intuitive or difficult to understand, the issue is that people can’t forget what they never learnt in the first place, and the reason they haven’t learnt is that all this knowledge and understanding is being stockpiled on campuses across the country and has not been disseminated through public media, it has not be popularised.

Being famous is not a self serving state rather it is a symptom of making public your lessons and findings, of disseminating your understanding, of providing value to your community. And you don’t do it through obscure journal articles you do it through popular medium.

At the end of the day, policy is made by politicians who are subject to the whims of the public not by economists, and if we want to improve the system it’s the mums and dads we should be trying to educate so that they can demand economically sound policy. And unfortunately mums and dads read the herald sun not the finical review, they watch the morning show not lateline and I think this is something that Milton Friedman intuitively understood.